#NigeriaDecides – Buhari and Atiku Have Opened Door to Political Forces They Can’t Control or Stop –
This is my latest article in Foreign Policy regarding Nigeria’s upcoming election:
Nigeria Is Headed for Dramatic Changes No Matter Who Wins
The issue of restructuring the country’s delicate federal system has long been a taboo. Both candidates have now put it front and center, ensuring that reforms are on the way.
On Feb. 16, Nigerians will go to the polls for a presidential election. At stake is not only who will be president but also fundamental issues about the structure of the Nigerian state and relations between its constituent units. Who should control the country’s oil resources and security forces? In which areas should the federal and state governments have preeminence over each other? These previously taboo questions have been elevated as key topics on the national political agenda. Regardless of who wins, President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress and his main opposition rival, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party, have opened the door to political forces they cannot control or stop.
At first glance Buhari and Atiku (as he is known in Nigeria) appear to be opposites. Buhari is austere, tough on corruption, and lacking in flair. The euphoria that greeted his election victory nearly four years ago has dissipated, and some say his antiquated fiscal approach has contributed to economic stagnation. Last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo (who remains a vital kingmaker despite leaving power nearly 12 years ago) told Buhari to “dismount from the horse” and retire from politics.
Atiku is a gregarious multibillionaire businessman and veteran politician who is seen as business-savvy and has promised economic liberalization, but he has been dogged by corruption allegations. It seems that voters can have a fight against corruption or economic stimulus, but not both. But there is a third and more serious issue bubbling beneath the surface.
Similar levels of support for the two main candidates have made the election result too close to call. Since both men are ethnic Fulani Muslims from northern Nigeria, neither can resort to pandering based on ethno-regional or religious sentiment to take votes away from the other, as is frequently the case in Nigerian elections. Due to Nigeria’s gentleman’s agreement to rotate the presidency between the country’s north and south, there is not much southern ferment against the regional origin of the two leading candidates, with the expectation that the south will have its turn in power next time.
Yet between the candidates, the pressure to secure a decisive advantage has changed the political narrative and forced both Buhari and Atiku to address uncomfortable existential questions about Nigeria that were delicately circumvented by past governments. For the past 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy, the country has been stuck with a highly centralized federal structure bequeathed to it by past military governments. This structure gives the federal government huge power over states, control of the country’s oil deposits and security forces, and the power to declare a state of emergency in any state whether or not that state consents. Rather than being reservoirs for local interests, Nigeria’s states are consequently little more than conduits for the implementation of federal government policies.
Atiku has described Nigeria’s current political system as “unworkable” and has advocated “devolution of powers and resources to states and local governments” and greater autonomy for states. To combat the insecurity that has led to the military being deployed in at least 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states, he also supports allowing Nigeria’s states to form their own police forces to reinforce Nigeria’s currently federally controlled military and police forces. Buhari is a conservative and has rejected a political restructuring of Nigeria.
Such proposals will reverberate at both ends of Nigeria. The issue of restructuring Nigeria’s unusual federal system has been a big talking point for the last three decades. However, regional autonomy is a potentially explosive issue in a country that fought a civil war from 1967 to 1970 and sacrificed over 1 million of its citizens to prevent one of its southern regions from seceding, and in which just three of the country’s 36 states today produce 75 percent of the country’s oil and over 50 percent of government revenues. Those revenues, derived from the oil-producing states in the country’s south, are shared between all of Nigeria’s states and the federal government. The oil-producing states currently receive 13 percent of oil revenues derived from their lands, but if they claw back a greater share of those revenues, many states that aren’t oil-producing would be pushed into extreme poverty. Indeed, only eight of Nigeria’s states are thought to be economically viable enough to survive without financial allocations from oil revenue.
Atiku’s proposals will delight many younger and southern Nigerians who have campaigned for such measures for three decades, hoping that it will allow Nigeria’s oil-producing states to have a greater say over and share of the profits from the oil drilled from their lands. However the proposals seem radical coming from a northern Muslim such as Atiku, who comes from the part of the country that has traditionally resisted southern-inspired changes to Nigeria’s political order. Historically, many northerners feared that such changes to Nigeria’s constitutional order would reduce the poorer northern states’ share of lucrative revenues from the oil fields in Nigeria’s south. The chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Ango Abdullahi, claimed that some have “personalized restructuring with a view to targeting a section of the country, and this is the area that we feel very sensitive about, and we will resist it.”
Yet the north also has its own reasons to support Atiku’s restructuring ideas. Many complain that Nigeria’s police and soldiers (who are recruited from all over the country under a quota system) are disadvantaged in their fight against the militants of Boko Haram because most of them are not from the northeast where the insurgency emerged, are not familiar with the terrain, and don’t speak the local Kanuri language of the region, thereby making it difficult for them to win the trust of locals and obtain intelligence from them. Some argue that troops should be locals with knowledge of the local language, terrain, and customs.
Localization of the security forces has already been occurring slowly, albeit unofficially and without constitutional backing. Nigeria’s Constitution recognizes only those security forces that are established by the federal government and forbids states from creating their own police forces. Yet some states have allowed militia to exist in a legal twilight zone alongside the constitutionally recognized military and police forces.
Some of the military’s successes against Boko Haram have been due to the assistance given to them by a militia of local volunteers called the Civilian Joint Task Force. Using their local knowledge, the group has provided vital intelligence to the military, set up security checkpoints, arrested or executed Boko Haram members, and even assisted the military during raids. Twelve states in Nigeria’s north operate under Sharia. Some of these states created enforcement corps known as Hisbah to police their legal code. Several years ago, some southern states also allowed vigilante groups to apprehend armed robbers.
Critics pointed out that some of the vigilantes spent as much time eliminating political rivals of their state governor as they did fighting criminals. These local ethno-cultural and religious differences demonstrate the challenges of allowing local communities to create their own security forces. In one part of the country they may be used to fight insurgents, to enforce a theocracy in another, or as political thugs in another. In a country with deep sectarian cleavages such as Nigeria, legislating different legal regimes for these groups would be impossible without accusations of ethnic, geographic, or religious bias. Thanks to Buhari and Atiku’s candor these are no longer academic debates but immediate real-life problems that Nigeria’s next government must confront.
If Buhari holds on to power, he will be under pressure to respond to these thorny issues. If Atiku wins, the electorate will expect him to deliver on his campaign promises. Even if neither man intends to touch the restructuring time bomb, the issues they have raised are likely to be picked up by whoever contests the next election.
They have unwittingly elevated the restructuring issue to such a high level on the national agenda that they are likely to remain campaign issues even for the next election in 2023, when a younger candidate from the south is almost certain to become president.
In Nigeria, younger politicians are far more likely than their conservative elders to implement massive reforms. No matter what Buhari and Atiku do, a southern successor is far more likely than them to push for radical changes to Nigeria’s structure. And that means four years from now Nigeria may have a president with the motivation to not only espouse reforms, but implement them, too.
Max Siollun is a Nigerian historian and the author of the books Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture 1966-1976 and Soldiers of Fortune: a History of Nigeria (1983-1993). Follow him on Twitter: @maxsiollun
#Nigeria’s next presidential election is only 5 days away. As usual the political temperature has reached boiling point and everyone thinks the entire future of the entire country is at stake. Rather than focus on one aspect of the election, I have compiled below, a compendium of the major issues surrounding the election.
The Key Contenders
Bloomberg has published a comparison of President Buhari and his main challenger Atiku Abubakar. It presents the election as a binary choice between “A Former Dictator or Alleged Kleptocrat“.
Voters and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) -@inecnigeria. There are over 84 million registered voters. The distribution of voters s likely to give President Buhari a slight advantage. The north-west (where Buhari hails from) has over 20 million registered voters, and the south-west (where the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is from) has over16 million registered voters. In a country like Nigeria where voters often vote on ethno-regional lines, the fact that 42% of registered voters are located in the regions where the president and vice-president are from will be crucial. This article by Idayat Hassan (@hassanidayat) provides a very good summary of the key issues and demographics.
The Role of Women
The UN has published an article lamenting the depressingly low-level of female representation in Nigerian politics. Nigeria has never had en elected female president or state governor. Only 5 of the 73 presidential candidates are women. There are only 7 women in the 109 member Senate, and only 22 of Nigeria’s 360 federal House of Representatives members are women.
Nigerian elections are not just about those who context for elected office. So called “godfathers” are the unseen hands that sponsor candidates, dictate hands from behind the scenes, and influence the country’s political trajectory. The former Governor of Taraba State Reverend Jolly Nyame, once said: “Whether you like it or not, as a godfather you will not be a governor, you will not be a president, but you can make a governor, you can make a president.”
Further Election Coverage
The BBC’s Africa and Nigeria coverage is usually first class. They have put together a good page on Nigeria’s election here.
Courtesy of Vanguard newspaper.
President Muhammadu Buhari – All Progressives Congress, APC
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar – Peoples Democratic Party, PDP
Donald Duke – Social Democratic Party, SDP
Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim – Alliance for New Nigeria, ANN
Mr. Omoyele Sowore – African Action Congress, AAC
(Mrs) Obi Ezekwesili – Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN
Dr. Obadiah Mailafia – African Democratic Congress, ADC
Prof Kingsley Moghalu – Young Progressive Party, YPP
Pastor Chris Okotie – Fresh Democratic Party, FDP
Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (retired) Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN
Habib Mohammed Gajo – Young Democratic Party, YDP
Olusegun Mimiko – Zenith Labour Party, ZLP
Major General John Gbor – All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA
Ali Soyode – YES Party
Davidson Isibor Akhimien – Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria, GDPN
Ike Keke – New Nigerian Peoples Party, NNPP
Apostle Sunday Chukwu-Eguzolugo – Justice Must Prevail Party, JMPP
(Mrs) Eunice Atuejide – National Interest Party, NIP
Hamisu Santuraki – Mega Party of Nigeria, MPN
Edozie Madu – Independent Democrat Party, IDP
Professor Peter Nwangwu – We the People of Nigeria Party, WPNP
Ahmed Bee Buhari – Sustainable National Party, SNP
Tope Fasua – Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP
Ade Fagbenro Bryon – KOWA Party
Moses Shipi – All Blending Party, ABP
Yahaya Ndu – African Renaissance Party, ARP
Chuks Nwachukwu – All Grassroots Alliance. AGA
Pastor Habu Aminchi – Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM
Yabagi Yusuf Sani – Action democratic Party, ADP
Babatunde Ademola – Nigeria Community Movement Party, NCMP
Martin Onovo – Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP
An Arms Deal Won’t Heal What Ails Muhammadu Buhari
Nigeria’s president is trying to prove he can get from Washington what his predecessor couldn’t, but it might not be enough to get him re-elected.
By Max Siollun
| May 11, 2018, 7:04 AM
U.S. President Donald Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari arrive for a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The septuagenarian presidents of Nigeria and the United States held a much-publicized meeting at the White House on April 30. The two countries are trying to patch things up after their biggest ever row. During the tenure of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, relations deteriorated to their lowest level ever, culminating with the U.S. refusal to sell Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria in 2015 to aid the country’s fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram. The spat, which arose due to U.S. concerns about alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian army, prompted Nigerian accusations that the United States was a false friend that had failed to help Nigeria in its moment of crisis.
But personal priorities have driven the most recent round of diplomacy. For Nigeria’s embattled president, Muhammadu Buhari, it was an opportunity to escape domestic criticism and pressure and demonstrate to voters that he has kept Nigeria’s partnership with the United States intact. For U.S. President Donald Trump, meeting with the president of Africa’s most populous country was an excellent chance for him to contain the furor after his infamous comments referring to African nations as “shithole countries” and to counter accusations that he does not care about the continent.
Buhari defeated Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election based on his image as a military “ironman” who could simultaneously fight corruption and security threats. But Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Buhari’s claim in December 2015 that “technically we have won the war” against Boko Haram has repeatedly come back to haunt him.
Nearly two and a half years after Buhari’s “mission accomplished” moment, the Islamist terrorist group still carries out suicide bombings, ambushes army convoys, and kidnaps schoolgirls. The threat from Boko Haram and other sources of communal violence has become so widespread that the Nigerian chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, admitted that the army is deployed on various security operations in 32 of Nigeria’s 36 states.
Buhari’s popularity has plummeted, and his critics have gotten tougher. In January, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a public letter in which he urged Buhari to “dismount from the horse” and retire from office. With Nigeria’s next presidential election less than a year away, the vultures are circling around Buhari. The biggest danger to Buhari’s re-election bid may ironically lie within his own party.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a key financier of Buhari’s 2015 campaign, has defected to the opposition People’s Democratic Party. Additionally, both Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara have bad blood with the leadership of Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Many APC members view Saraki and Dogara as a fifth column inside the party. Opponents have also questioned whether a man of Buhari’s age (he is 75) and with his poor health record is strong enough to be the president of a tumultuous country like Nigeria. On his way back from Washington, he made a “technical stopover” in London and met with his medical doctor there. Last year, Buhari spent three months abroad in London for treatment for an illness he has refused to disclose.
Buhari needs a political boost if he is going to have a shot at re-election. The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship
The meeting with Trump, and the United States’ recent decision to sell Super Tucano fighter jets to Nigeria, allows Buhari to show voters at home that he has repaired a broken relationship
and that his own skills have achieved deals with Washington that his predecessor couldn’t produce.
Yet Buhari needs the Tucano deal more than his country does. This deal amounts to toys for the boys, bolstering Buhari’s image, rather than being a gamechanger in the war against Boko Haram. Indeed, Nigeria is getting the right equipment but at the wrong time.
Tucano jets would have had more impact four years ago, when Boko Haram was attacking and occupying Nigerian territory like a conventional army, rather than today, when its preferred method of attack is to send little girls into mosques and crowded markets on suicide bombing missions. The Tucanos will not stop suicide bombings, nor will they stop the clashes between farmers and herdsmen that are Nigeria’s next security headache.
Apart from the personal victories, the reset in U.S.-Nigerian relations also demonstrates how much the relationship between the two nations has changed over the past decade. Oil was the traditional sweetener of choice in Nigeria’s business deals. Nigeria used to export 1.31 million barrels of crude oil per day to the United States in 2006. By February of this year, its oil exports to the United States had plummeted by 71 percent to just 369,000 barrels per day as America has become reliant on its own oil production and less dependent on oil imports from abroad. Nigerian Oil Minister Ibe Kachikwu publicly admitted that the era when the United States was a primary export market for Nigeria “is gone.”
Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.
Although their relationship is no longer about oil, the United States and Nigeria still need each other.
Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy and population. Trump wants Nigeria to remove trade barriers and give U.S. companies greater access to Nigeria’s large, young population of almost 200 million, many of whom love foreign goods and more than half of whom are under 30. While the United States erected red tape around deals thanks to the Nigerian army’s alleged human rights abuses, Chinese companies — with no such scruples — have been busy investing and building roads and train lines in Nigeria.
Members of Buhari’s delegation met with large U.S. companies, including Boeing and General Electric, during the Washington trip. Boeing is interested in Nigeria’s plans to resuscitate its national airline, and GE is part of a consortium that agreed to a $2 billion railway development project in Nigeria. These meetings are a chance for U.S. companies to avoid ceding further ground to China.
But the relationship, always unsteady, is not out of the woods. And even Buhari’s much-touted arms deal is causing friction. Nigeria’s minister of defense, retired Army Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali, protested the stringent conditions that Washington attached to the sale of the Tucano jets. The jets will not be delivered until 2020, and Nigerian officers will be barred from maintaining them, examining their architecture, or from being trained by U.S. personnel.
Dan-Ali was so outraged by these conditions that he vowed not to pay for the jets unless the U.S. conditions are relaxed. The inexplicably high cost of the Tucano jets (almost $500 million), and the fact that Buhari agreed to their purchase without approval from the National Assembly, also led some senators to call for his impeachment. With the deal under such close scrutiny, what seemed like a much-needed Band-Aid for U.S.-Nigerian relations could prove painful if it gets torn off.
Buhari’s unwillingness to disclose the nature or extent of his illness fuels rumors that he is terminally ill or, periodically, that he has already died. Last month, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the president, was forced to issue a series of tweets denying that anything unpleasant happened to the president. He added that reports of Buhari’s ill health are “plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic.” Buhari’s wife recently tweeted that his health is “not as bad as it’s being perceived.”
Regardless of the severity of his illness, Buhari’s extended absence risks igniting an ugly power struggle that would threaten not just the political fortunes of his ruling party but also a long observed gentleman’s agreement that has been critical to maintaining the stability of the country.
The unwritten power-sharing agreement obliges the country’s major parties to alternate the presidency between northern and southern officeholders every eight years. It was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north. For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages. But it was never intended to be permanent, and as Buhari’s illness demonstrates, it has increasingly become a source of tension rather than consensus.
If Buhari, a northerner, doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s “turn” in the presidency has been cut short. In late 2009, then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, who like Buhari was a Muslim from the north, traveled abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. When Yar’Adua died in office the following year, his southern Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded him, setting the stage for an acrimonious split within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over whether Jonathan should merely finish out Yar’Adua’s term or run to retain the office in the 2011 election.
In the end, Jonathan ran and won in 2011. But not before 800 people were killed in riots in the north after the PDP allowed Jonathan to contest the election. The anti-Jonathan faction later resigned in protest and defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Buhari led the APC to victory over the PDP in 2015.
An eerily similar scenario is now playing out in Buhari’s APC party. If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.
There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.
Yet if the north’s “turn” in power is interrupted again, it will further alienate the region — already home to the bloody Boko Haram insurgency, which has thrived in part because of government neglect — and make north-south cooperation on security, development, and a host of other critical issues more difficult. It could easily lead to another round of deadly riots, as it did in 2011. But there is a way out.
Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation now that it has outlived its purpose. At the same time, it should deepen power sharing in state and local governments, which have steadily gained influence relative to the national government since 1999. Many of the country’s 36 states and 774 local governments already practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups. The key will be to frame the abolition of power rotation at the presidential level as an opportunity to strengthen these norms at the state and local levels — not a chance to terminate them everywhere at once.
The reality is that most Nigerians experience government at the local level anyway. Regardless of whether Buhari or Osinbajo is in the presidential palace, state and local officials have the most purchase on the lives of ordinary citizens. Letting go of a dangerous convention at the national level while devolving more power to inclusive governance structures at the local level offers a way out of the current impasse.
Today is the 26th anniversary of the April 1990 coup attempt against General Babangida in Nigeria. Rather than rehash the events (which I have written about before) in this post, I have instead included links where you can read all about the coup in an account by one of its plotters, and another view of the coup by General Babangida’s former Chief Security Officer.
That coup was a watershed in Nigeria, and accelerated the turn of events that led to the insurgency in the Niger Delta, and indirectly to the controversy that followed the June 12, 1993 election annulment, and the “power shift” to the south in 1999.
If you want to read more about the Orkar coup and these tumultuous years, you can of course do so in my book “Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)“.
Have a great weekend everyone.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Nigeria’s former military head of state General Murtala Muhammed. He was assassinated on February 13, 1976, on his way to work during an abortive coup. Full details of Murtala’s life and the events that led to his death are in my book Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture.
Murtala’s car was ambushed by a group of soldiers in Lagos and he was shot to death. Above is a photo of the bullet riddled car in which he was killed. Note the bullet holes in the windscreen.
US State Department Report on Murtala Muhammed: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/us-state-department-report-on-murtala-muhammed/
Murtala Muhammed’s speech on Nigerian democracy: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/
The assassination of Murtala Muhammed:
Brigadier Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Speaks to the press about Coup Plot: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1849886570623/
Lt-Colonel Dimka speaks to the press: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1851800698475/
Lt-General Obasanjo announces execution of coup convicts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjEA83pgstg&list=PLTCNM3JtW0UlisCGV98STnBtiGoS7YTaZ&index=3
From Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria. A lot of “chatter” about Buhari’s new aide-de-camp (ADC) Lt-Colonel M. Lawal Abubakar (of the military police). People were curious about his white uniform and red cap. Incidentally a military police officer as ADC to the President gives a strong clue as to who is likely to be the next National Security Adviser or Minister of Defence under Buhari. It has been rumoured for a while that former Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Abdulrahaman Bello Dambazau would have a prominent role in Buhari’s government. Well, when he was in the army Dambazau served in…the military police (the same corps as Buhari’s new ADC)…
The military ceremony was led by the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the Brigade of Guards Master Warrant-Officer Kolo Aboko (under the command of the commander of the Brigade of Guards Brigadier-General Anthony Bamidele Omozeje). They presided over the handing over the ceremonial instruments of office (Nigerian flag and armed forces flag from former President Jonathan).
Buhari’s full inaugural speech: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/05/read-president-buhari-inaugural-speech/
A video report on the controversies of Buhari’s first tenure in government.